How to Put Company Culture at the Heart of Hiring

By Cheri O'Neil on October 29, 2016 at 7:00pm

Your company mission statement is what you do. Your company culture is how you go about doing it. When recruiting and hiring, businesses need to focus not only on candidates' skills but also their personalities and the likelihood they’ll match with their future coworkers.

In a field such as accounting and finance, where the competition for talent can be fierce, applicants have choices. They seek out employers whose corporate culture is compatible with their own work style and personal values. If they join a firm that they find out later doesn’t mesh with their values, they are not likely to remain on board.

This tendency is particularly common among Generation Z, the newest entrants into the workforce, including those graduating from college right now. They’re not merely looking for a high salary and great benefits package; they also want to do meaningful work, be part of an innovative company and, at the same time, manage their work-life balance.

The challenge for a hiring manager is to communicate effectively what it’s like to work at your firm and find a perfect fit. Here are five tips for sharing your corporate culture when interviewing job candidates.

Find out more about organizational culture, the make-or-break factor in hiring and retention.

Know your company’s strengths

Before you can speak about the company culture, you have to really understand it from a potential hire’s perspective. One way to do that is to consult your staff. Ask them to honestly describe your organization’s top traits and what new recruits can expect when they come on board. This information will help you communicate to top candidates what it’s like to work there, set realistic expectations and get applicants excited about working for the company.

One way to do that is to ask these questions:

  • Is our office more about team or individual effort — Some companies thrive on a combination of individual effort and a staff to support those efforts. They are filled primarily with employees focused on succeeding at their individual goals. Other offices depend more on blending the specific talents of each worker to the benefit of the team, for which common objectives reign. An example of the former would be some sales offices, where salespeople need the help of others to successfully market the company or service but, in general, understand that success is all about their individual performance; this environment attracts people who ultimately care most about closing the deal.
  • Is management top-down, or do we lead from the ranks — Some job applicants will be most comfortable with a traditional boss who gives them clear instructions, then steps out of the way, expecting tasks to be carried out in the way they’ve outlined. But others would rather work for managers get their hands dirty in day-to-day accounting projects and lead by example, rather than just supervising the work of their subordinates.
  • What defines success, and how is it rewarded — Is one of the expectations at your organization that people put in long hours? Or can newer employees who work quickly and efficiently garner praise and accolades, too? When it comes to who is recognized, most companies probably show a mix of these two. But if a promising candidate asks this question, you need to know which side you lean toward. Applicants who want to climb the career ladder — but also want to set their own standards of work hours and methodology — may lean toward the latter type of workplace culture.

Be true to your organization's values

It can be tempting to exaggerate the company culture, such as telling potential hires how laid-back and transformative your organization is. But if words don’t match reality, then not only are you misleading them, but you risk making a costly bad hire. Tell applicants what the corporate culture is really like by discussing the opportunities and challenges they could face and the people they would work with regularly. Most important, explain how that culture aligns with the company’s values and mission. If what you have to say resonates with candidates, they’ll look forward to joining your team. If not, you’ve saved yourself a potential headache.

Anticipate top candidates’ questions

You may know how to interview candidates, but are you ready for them to quiz you? Company cultures are complex and unique. Which elements do you emphasize when communicating with applicants and, later, the short list of interviewees? Put yourself in their shoes by thinking about what they’re likely to ask and formulating your answers. Here are some possible questions about corporate culture:

  • What are some words you would use to describe this firm?
  • Who would I be working with? What are they like?
  • Is your culture collaborative or independent?
  • How does the company support professional development?
  • In what ways does the organization support the community?
  • Would you say the company culture is conservative, progressive or somewhere in between?

Offer evidence of your culture

If you really want to communicate your company culture, you need to do more than pay lip service. For example, you could post short video interviews on your website in which staff talk about what it’s like to work there. Social media, when done well, is also a good way to show off your firm’s style. Upload content about nonwork events, such as fundraisers, volunteer activities and companywide outings. As part of the process of wooing promising candidates, take them into the office and introduce them to potential future colleagues. All employers say they have a great company culture, but to really impress someone, you need to show, not just tell.

Cultivate your company culture

Corporate culture is at the heart of the employer’s brand. Since senior management sets the tone for much of a company’s style, start there. If an organization truly wants to be known as worker friendly, for example, C-level executives should not only institute generous time-off policies but also set the example by taking time off themselves. Similarly, you can say that your company culture is one of innovation, but few will take that claim seriously if senior management dismisses risk takers as soon as their ideas fail.

During the recession of the previous decade, with rampant layoffs across many industries, accounting professionals couldn’t afford to be choosy about job offers. Today, corporate culture is a two-way street. As an employer, you’re looking for top talent who will succeed and thrive in your work environment. The reverse is also true: The best and brightest will evaluate you just as much as you assess them.

A good company culture match is a win-win. Even if you find the most technically brilliant candidates, they won’t be very effective if they can’t get along with the rest of the staff. By putting company culture at the heart of hiring, it becomes easier to find accounting professionals who will thrive and contribute to the long-term success of your business.

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